By Rick Hulse
I’ve always been a bit of a sun-worshipper, me. Not the ‘down on my knees praying to the mighty Sun God’ sort of sun-worshipper – that, to my mind, would be as silly as worshipping any other sort of ‘god’.
Nor do I mean the ‘lying on a deckchair trying to darken the colour of my skin while risking skin cancer in the fatuous belief that such idiocy will in some way make me look healthier or more attractive’ sort of sun-worshipper. No, for me it is simply the fact that the world seems to be a much happier, fun-loving place when the sun is shining and the temperature’s dragged its lazy arse into the upper 20s!
When the sun’s shining brightly, the cloudless sky is blue, and the occasional rustling of the leaves on the trees is the only reliable evidence of the presence of a breeze; that’s me in pig-heaven that is! On days like this it’s so easy to forget all of my commitments, duties, trials and tribulations, at least for a while. Well, until some silly bastard riding a motorcycle wearing a T-shirt, shorts and trainers goes bimbling by to remind me that the world is over-stocked with idiots, and lots of them ride bikes!
The daftest thing about it is that such lunacy is not confined to inexperienced teenage lads fuelled by bravado and testosterone – on sunny days I regularly see middle-aged bikers, both male and female, riding while dressed for the beach!
Just yesterday, as I was travelling along the A50 after visiting a client in Burton upon Trent, the weather was gorgeous, the traffic was light, and I was moving along at a ‘reasonable rate of knots’ (honest, officer) when I overtook a line of four bikes, all of which were ridden by guys with their arms uncovered. Only one of them was wearing gloves, and two were wearing shorts. One guy was carrying a pillion passenger; a lady with very nice shapely legs, as was plain to see because she was wearing a tight pair of shorts and flip-flops. I shit you not! The silly sod was wearing shorts and flip-flops on the back of a motorcycle that was travelling along at about 65 miles per hour on a fast dual carriageway!
A picture crept into my mind of what her lovely legs would look like if the bike hit a patch of diesel on the road, and the rider dropped it. I didn’t have to stretch my imagination to form that ghastly picture in my mind because I’ve seen it in reality, more than once. I could also picture the mangled and shredded flesh of her de-gloved feet, because that too is something I have seen more than once. (De-gloving is what the medical profession call it when the skin and upper layer of flesh is torn from a limb, leaving the tendons, sinews and bones in plain, and extremely gory, view). I could also see the rider in my mind’s eye. His knee smashed beyond repair, a first degree burn scorching into his ravaged calf as the hot exhaust made its way toward the bones in his leg. I could see his bloody hand trying to reach out for his torn-up girlfriend as his mangled fingers tried to grasp the thumb that was now only attached to his hand by a single tendon.
These are all injuries I’ve seen during my 26 years as chairman of the National Association for Bikers with a Disability; the sort of injuries that can, and do, come from what would normally be classed as a ‘minor spill’ on a motorcycle when the ridiculous desire to feel or look ‘cool’ has overridden the perfectly reasonable instinct for self-preservation.
As chairman of the NABD I’ve sat beside far too many hospital beds and tried to help injured bikers come to terms with the fact that they’re facing life-long disabilities, all too often through absolutely no fault of their own, but every now and then I meet somebody who would’ve suffered far less damage if only they’d been wearing the right gear.
I recently visited a client in my capacity as an expert witness for the courts. This chap has been a Harley fanatic for many years, and had even built a very respectable chop for himself. His biking didn’t involve particularly high annual mileage, and he’d never joined any sort of bike club, or even been to a rally, but he loved his bikes and rode them purely for his own pleasure, freely admitting to being strictly a ‘fair-weather’ rider. Then, one day, somebody came out of a side road without looking, and smashed him off his bike. His spinal injuries were severe to the point of being ‘life-changing’, and he’ll probably never again walk without the use of crutches or a walking frame. He also has extensive nerve damage in his legs and hands that have complicated and diminished the level of recovery he might otherwise have hoped for.
When I asked him about the riding gear that’d been destroyed in the accident, or when it was cut off him in hospital, I was quite stunned when he replied: “Nike trainers, track-suit bottoms, a T-shirt, an Orange County Choppers fleece, and a crash helmet.” Seeing the shocked look on my face he said: “Well, it was a nice day and I was only nipping out to the local superstore for some bits, it’s not worth putting all the heavy gear on for a five-mile round trip, is it?” My silence was matched by his own for several minutes before he held up one of his shaking disfigured hands and said: “I know, my surgeon rides bikes and he reckons nothing would have stopped the spinal injuries, but leathers, boots and gloves could have saved me from the rest of it.”
Despite myself, I felt sorry for him – it was a bloody hard way to learn a simple lesson. People are wonderfully soft and squishy, whereas tarmac, concrete, bollards, kerbs, lampposts, motorcycles and other vehicles really aren’t. At all.
If you must have a suntan, get it on a deckchair – not on a bike!Enjoy more Back Street Heroes reading in the monthly magazine. Click here to subscribe.